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|Conflicting statements surface|
V-Vehicle representatives and local officials remain optimistic the company can secure a federal loan by a March 1 deadline that V-Vehicle must meet to be granted some $15 million in local incentives.
That may be impossible since the U.S. Department of Energy says it could take up to nine months to complete an environmental assessment study, which is required as part of V-Vehicle's application for a roughly $300 million loan from the Energy Department.
The Department of Energy recently notified the Ouachita Parish Police Jury it would conduct an environmental assessment of the V-Vehicle project before it makes a decision on whether to approve V-Vehicle's loan. The loan was sought to provide financing for V-Vehicle's plans to establish an automobile manufacturing operation in the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita Parish.
Ebony Meeks, an Energy Department spokesperson, said Wednesday that an environmental assessment study could take six to nine months to complete. She said the Energy Department was in the beginning stages of the process regarding the V-Vehicle project.
Last fall, Ouachita Parish voters approved a 1.8-mill property tax to help pay for local governments' pledge to provide some $11.5 million in incentives to help lure V-Vehicle to northern Louisiana. The cities of Monroe and West Monroe and the Ouachita Parish Police Jury agreed to put up the $11.5 million. Ouachita Economic Development Land Corp. and the Interstate 20 Economic Development District pledged the remainder of the $15 million incentives package.
A resolution the Ouachita Parish Police Jury approved concerning the local incentives package for V-Vehicle says the company must have some $350 million in capital in place by March 1 to access the $15 million local incentives package. For months, V-Vehicle officials have said publicly or have alluded that the loan V-Vehicle sought from the Department of Energy was necessary for V-Vehicle to have its capital in place by the March 1 deadline.
Besides the local incentives package, V-Vehicle also is being assisted by the state, which is contributing some $130 million in incentives to the company.
Earlier this month, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury gave preliminary approval to issue $11.5 million in tax-exempt bonds as part of the local financial obligation for V-Vehicle.
V-Vehicle spokesman Joe Fisher said the company believes it will secure its loan from the Department of Energy by the March 1 deadline.
"We are working closely with them (Energy Department) and we feel good about the process," Fisher said. "We're confident about the outcome … we're confident it will happen."
"They (DOE) are doing their best with it, and so are we," Fisher added.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said Wednesday that V-Vehicle established the March 1 deadline that the company must meet to access local incentives.
"We're still hoping to hear something before the March 1 deadline," Norris said. "I have gotten information that things are moving very positively."
"The unofficial word we're hearing is it is moving well and they don't feel they have a problem meeting that March 1 deadline," Norris added.
Norris confirmed that if V-Vehicle failed to meet the March 1 deadline, property taxes collected for the V-Vehicles incentives package would be returned to taxpayers.
"Our agreement was if V-Vehicle was unsuccessful in getting all things in place, all that money would be refunded," Norris said.
Police Jury president Shane Smiley, in a recent interview with The Ouachita Citizen, echoed Norris' sentiments.
While V-Vehicle can ask for an extension in light of its loan application with the Department of Energy, Smiley says the resolution passed by the police jury contained strict language that would forbid granting an extension.
"The language is cut and dry … they have to meet certain criteria by a certain timeframe (March 1) or we are no longer responsible for our part of the deal," Smiley said. "This timeframe we are working on was requested by Louisiana Economic Development Corp. and we agreed to it, and the contract was drawn up as such."
"Our money comes in last and they have to meet that criteria by March 1," Smiley added.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo is optimistic V-Vehicle's loan from the Energy Department can be secured by the March 1 deadline.
On Wednesday, he said the Energy Department loan was one of the last pieces of the puzzle needed to complete V-Vehicle's efforts to establish a manufacturing operation here.
"We've certainly expressed to our congressional delegation the importance of getting that loan for V-Vehicle, so we're going to continue to remain positive," Mayo said.
V-Vehicle says it would eventually create 1,400 new jobs at the former Guide plant while 1,800 jobs would be created indirectly.
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